A recent visit to an exhibition of patchwork quilts made me return to the old question of the difference between craft and art.
The quilts were beautiful , colourful and well made . But an overheard conversation made me realise why they were craft and not art. A woman on a stall – showing a magazine to a customer said 2 This is an excellent magazine , the projects are very clearly laid out and easy to follow” So here is the difference i thought – a well made and beautiful quilt is made by following a design worked out by someone else , like following a knitting pattern.
So the difference between craft and art is the element of the personal decision making during the making of the work.
Of course it is far more complicated than that.
For many artists , old masters and contemporary practitioners, assistants are essential. It is well known that Hirst’s Dot Paintings were produced by his assistants and many other artists use assistants in this way. For many modern sculptors the fabrication of their work is carried out by specialist firms. The artist may not have any real understanding of the ‘craft’ involved in producing the work .
Mark Quinn’s statue, Alison Lapper Pregnant has gone through several transformations. Initially a roughly life sized piece it was scaled up for its placement on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square and its most recent incarnation is as a large inflatable piece for the current Venice Biennale. So one has to ask when does the piece cease to be a work of art and become a work of craftsmen who are following a prepared pattern. Taking this thinking to the extreme , if the inflatable Alison Lapper is art then surely the quilts I saw ( worked to a prescribed pattern designed by an artist), are also art.
Yet one is accepted as art and one is not.
Grayson Perry paid tribute to the workshops and crafts people involved in producing the arts works on show in ‘THE Tomb of the unknown Craftsman’ at the British Museum and this rare event has not so far been followed by other artists or curators.
Grayson Perry works as a ceramicist , or more commonly a potter. He has said himself that he is not the best potter around. If he only produced pots then he would be regarded as a craftsman, the decoration of his pots is what takes them out of the realm of craft and into the realm of art.
I am not sure where all of this is taking me.
The question of what is craft and what is art is probably best ignored . The work must speak for itself.